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The gift of feed
Milwaukee’s Italian dining scene, established by immigrant families, and inspired by regional specialties and familial recipes

By MARTIN HINTZ
Photos by Dan Bishop

December 2012

Siblings Anthony (left), Theresa and Peter run the critically acclaimed Sala da Pranzo on Milwaukee's East Side.

For the Balistreri siblings, Tony, Theresa and Peter, running Sala da Pranzo Italian restaurant is an extension of their family experience. Even before their grandfather came to America as a young boy from St. Elia, Silicy in the early 1900s the Balistreris have been a cooking family. "My great-grandmother, Nanny, used to cook for everyone from her grandchildren to the lady who cut her hair," Tony Balistreri says. "She wanted to feed people. It was her gift to the world."

Peter got his first kitchen job at Sala at 13 working for his older siblings. After studying at the Culinary Institute of America he came back to Sala as a partner chef.

Albanese’s Roadhouse & Dominic’s Sports Lounge

Hearkening back to the days of red-checkered tablecloths, Albanese’s capitalizes on its three generations of family owner-operators. House specialties include Steak Pizzaoila, a tenderloin sautéed with vegetables and Marsala wine, topped with provolone cheese and served with a choice of spaghetti or mostaccioli; and Italian sausage cacciatore with homemade Italian sausage and red wine married to green peppers and oodles of mushrooms and onions. Lunch is served Monday through Friday. A separate area has been remodeled with a lounge/sports bar format, along with a game room available for private parties.

2301 W. Bluemound Road, Waukesha, (262) 785-1930, www.albanesesroadhouse.com

Bartolotta’s Ristorante

Ristorante Bartolotta serves rustic Italian dishes from Central and Northern Italy. Occupying a prime corner in the heart of Tosa Village, this Bartolotta dynasty flagship makes for a dining delight. The chefing staff can whip up a Spiedini di Quaglia alla Griglia, a perfectly grilled quail breast skewered with Brussels sprouts and served with baked polenta. Proud of its community links, Bartolotta’s was the official restaurant group for the Milwaukee Film Festival. Throughout that event, Bartolotta presented fun pairings between its many eateries and various movies, such as linking "Summer Games" (Giochi d’Estate) with the Ristorante’s Pappardelle al Ragu d’Anatra, a Tuscan dish hearkening back to the movie’s setting.

7616 W. State St., Wauwatosa, (414) 771-7910, www.bartolottaristorante.com

Calderone Club

Although noted restaurateur "Papa Tony" Fazzari died in September, his extended clan is carrying on the family’s three decades of food service. While the Calderone took first place in the Milwaukee Meatball Challenge 2012, this comfortable, family oriented restaurant can also turn out a champion range of Strauss veal options. Among them are marsala, parmigiano, scallopini, limone and piccata preparations. Each is served with Italian bread, mixed green salad and rosemary-seasoned red potatoes or pasta marinara. The Calderone has expanded outside deck service during its North Shore site’s summer season, with a cluster of tables in the house front and more tables, plus booths, ranging to the right of the entrance. The decor isn’t fancy, but the place is truly foodie functional. A sister restaurant is located on Old World Third Street in Milwaukee, across from the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

8001 N. Port Washington Road, Glendale, (414) 352-9303, www.calderoneclubfoxpoint.com

Carini's La Conca D'Oro

Carini’s La Conca D’Oro

A portrait of Guiseppe and Francesca Carini, parents of restaurant owner Peter Carini, oversees the dining room at La Conca D’Oro, "The Shell of Gold." Aboard the S.S. Anna Maria in 1966, these elder Carinis voyaged stateside from Porticello, Sicily, with sons and daughters Peter, Rosario, Santo, Albert, Salvatore, Maria and Antonia. Peter opened his restaurant in 1996, now aided by chef son Gregg. Emphasizing Sicilian cooking, Carini is known for his beef, chicken, veal, swordfish and eggplant spiedinis. One of his signature dishes is La Conca d’Oro, spaghetti with shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, calamari and crushed peppers tossed in a homemade marinara sauce or garlic wine sauce.

3468 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, (414) 963-9623, www.carinislaconcadoro.com

Caterina’s Ristorante

Antonio (Tony) Ingrilli moved to Milwaukee from Capo d’Orlando, Sicily, in 1964 and began making pizza at the tender age of 17. At 24, he opened his first restaurant and then went on to launch an Italian deli and liquor store. He and his wife, Kathy, swung open their doors at Caterina’s in 1982. In 2003, their son, Tony Jr., took over the bright, cheery facility where, if anyone wants seafood, Ingrilli has it. Patrons flock here for the scampi in its numerous transformations: paired with scallops, breaded; "al francaise," dipped in an egg batter and sautéed with lemon juice; and "messinese," sautéed in tomatoes, olive oil, wine, onions, plenty of garlic and lots of delicious fontina cheese. For meat eaters, Ingrilli’s prime steer filet All’ Antonio is seasoned, breaded and then sautéed with freshly sliced mushrooms, green peppers and onions. The ristorante also has lamb, pork and chicken. As curvy as an Italian starlet, the well-stocked bar is a dining room feature.

9104 W. Oklahoma Ave., West Allis, (414) 541-4200, www.caterinasristorante.com

Centro Café

Although tiny, Centro looms large in the city’s Riverwest neighborhood for its expansive service and hearty portions. It presents craft cocktails concocted with Bittercube’s locally made bitters. Tables line the wall, with other guests able to sit at a bar to watch the food prepping up close and personal while savoring aromas. The two window tables front the door to Center Street and are primo locations in which to see and be seen. In the summer, patrons perch at sidewalk tables to capitalize on warm weather and enjoy the street hustle. Owner Pat Moore and his wife, Peg Karpfinger, gradually rehabbed their building’s old bones, making magic with both the décor and the dining when it opened in 2009. Certain dishes, as marked on the menu, can be prepared vegan and/or gluten free. Among recommendations are the penne bolognese and Centro’s shrimp and scallops "al diavolo," done in a spicy white wine tomato sauce with linguine and bedazzled by fresh herbs.

808 E. Center St., (414) 455-3751, www.centrocaferiverwest.com

Il Mito Trattoria e Enoteca

On the city’s restaurant scene since 1997, chef Michael Feker emphasizes simple Italian cuisine, augmented by a superb wine list. Winning the chariot race for the city’s best spaghetti bolognese is Feker’s tasty dance of Italian sausage, ground beef eye of the round, chicken sans hormones/antibiotics, plus savory herbs simmered in a red wine and tomato reduction. Feker points out that he grows his own herbs at home in planters, which are moved inside during the winter. Among his favorites are basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, cilantro and mint. Along with small plates (piatti piccoli), Il Mito has numerous seasonal gluten-free offerings. The restaurant is snug, with a long bar backed by tables against a rustic wall. The front of the room faces Wauwatosa’s bustling North Avenue, with a side area devoted to parties, tastings and cooking demonstrations.

6913 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, (414) 443-1414, www.ilmito.com

Cafe La Scala, Italian Community Center

All roads lead to Rome and all good things Italian in Milwaukee lead to the Italian Community Center for its activities, ranging from bocce to banquets. The center was founded in 1978 to celebrate the homeland’s heritage and culture, and has been at its current location since 1990. At its on-site Cafe La Scala, executive chef Jack McNeir is known for his Chicken Saltimbocca, a sautéed breast of chicken layered with fresh sage and prosciutto topped with marsala mushroom butter sauce served over fettuccine pasta with asparagus spears. For value-added to a meal, the center’s annual Courtyard Music Series has delighted diners for 12 years, from June through September. In addition, Italian food specialists Rachel Anderson and Salvatore Strehlow host "Sapori Italiani, Savoring the Flavors of Italy" on the center’s website, offering monthly recipes and lots of fun chat about food.

631 E. Chicago St., (414) 223-2800, www.lascalamilwaukee.com

Mimma’s Cafe

One never knows who might be sitting at the next table in Mimma’s, a Brady Street fine dining fixture. Owner Mimma Megna attracts major sports figures, band leaders and other celebrities, a clientele drawn by her hospitality and food. Megna arrived stateside in 1963 from Sicily and became a cook at the North Shore Country Club. A couple of decades later, she launched Mimma’s and this "Queen of Italian Cuisine" has not slowed down since. Megna puts a different twist on many of her pasta offerings, including vegetarian-style. Her penne con asparagi includes pasta with fresh asparagus and anchovies sautéed in olive oil and a black pappardelle pasta with shrimp and calamari in marinara sauce. And yes, that was ex-NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani perched over there, mopping up his sauce.

1307 E. Brady St., (414) 271-7337, www.mimmas.com

Nessun Dorma

When it comes to bruschetta, Riverwest’s low-key Nessun Dorma has few equals. For starters, the restaurant’s Crostini Pizzaiola is a thick-sliced seeded deli loaf crowned with hearty Roma tomatoes, plenty of basil and garlic and melted fresh mozzarella. Then there is also a traditional grilled Tuscan bread, topped with chopped tomatoes, fresh basil and plenty of anti-vampire garlic. The pesto is housemade, plus kalamata and Greek green olive tapenades. Speaking of olives, diners can also get large or small portions of red and black Bella de Cerignola and green Castelvetrano olives tossed in a house vinaigrette with capers, onions and celery.

2778 N. Weil St., (414) 264-8466, www.nessundormariverwest.com

The Pasta Tree

The Pasta Tree has been a prime date-night choice for years, with its romantic decor emphasizing intimate dining experiences and plenty of hand-holding if one (or two) wish. But even lovers can take time out from gazing adoringly to sample proscuitto-wrapped scallops or a veal picatta. Among the more interesting dishes is a shrimp serving in an alfredo sauce with steamed broccoli. A favored specialty is the Tree’s traditional Italian tomato sauce with its touch of cream, splash of vodka and kalamata olives. To conclude a moonlight-softened evening, the restaurant serves fabled Lavazza coffee and rich espresso.

1503 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 276-8867

Rustico Pizzeria

With its exposed brick walls and ceiling rafters, proximity to the River Walk, a comfortable bar near the entrance and large TVs, Rustico emphasizes the casual. Opened by Italian restaurant maestro Brian Zarletti in 2008, Rustico is primarily a pizza place, but offers extensive salads, antipasti and panini. Veal Bolognese is a favored dish, with the classic pasta primavera doing as well. The wine list is heavy on Italian varieties, with half pricing on Tuesday’s bottles. This is a handy lunch drop-in if meandering the Third Ward.

223 N. Water St., (414) 220-9933, www.rusticopizzeria.com

Ryan Braun’s Graffito

The Graffito makes a point out of celebrating the Third Ward’s Italian heritage, emphasizing tutto cucinato al momento, or cooking from scratch. Small plates are big here, such as beef carpaccio and gnocchi. Larger servings by chef Joe McCormick do well on the portions, with out-of-the-ordinary items such as braciole, a short rib with mushrooms, white truffle potato puree and cipollini onions. As part of the Surg Restaurant Group’s impressive lineup of eateries in Milwaukee, Graffito has become a hit with downtown trendies and corporate groups. Everyone is eager to briefly pass up their river view if there is the chance to spot the restaurant’s ballplaying namesake Ryan Braun, who pops in occasionally.

102 N. Water St., (414) 727-2888, www.ryanbraunsgraffito.com

Sala da Pranzo

Sala da Pranzo

While only a block east of the UW-Milwaukee campus, Sala da Pranzo could be in the heart of Sicily. Opened in 2001 by the sibling team of Teresa and Anthony Balistreri, the two were then joined by brother Peter. Both men perform the chef duties, making sauces by hand, using herbs from their seasonal rooftop garden and emphasizing fresh produce. The two regularly come up with delightful new ways of tackling weekly specials, such as their Sicilian Sashimi, composed of thinly slice raw scallops, olive oil, lemon zest, chives, capers and pickled red onions. They readily offer many dishes prepared gluten free, dairy free or vegan.

2613 E. Hampshire St., (414) 964-2611, www.sala-dapranzo.com

Tenuta’s Italian Restaurant

Host Frank Tenuta’s parents, Cesare and Antonia, came to America from southern Italy in 1961. According to family legend, they carried original family recipes gathered from throughout Italy. That attention to the old ways is still evident in the gamberetti, grilled shrimp with sautéed capers and baby spinach on a bed of fettuccine, drizzled with lemon garlic sauce. The original Caesar would have crossed the Rubicon twice if he had the chance to taste Tenuta’s snappy insalata di Caesar, romaine lettuce blessed with — of course — a house dressing concocted so secretly that even Vatican archivists are envious.

2995 S. Clement Ave., (414) 431-1014, www.tenutasitalian.com

Third Ward Caffé

The Third Ward Caffé has a long history in the Historic Third Ward. The building itself is a converted 1875 produce warehouse, in a neighborhood once the bustling hub of the city’s Little Italy at least until the freeway and urban renewal carved out its heart in the 1960s. Deftly managed since 1982 by Jane and Randy Nelson, the menu these days features veal, beef, chicken, pizza and more than 20 pastas. Seasonal specials are popular, with produce as often as possible from the Nelsons’ Door County farm. There are some 100 Italian wines, including traditional chianti through sparkling dry champagnes. For a treat at Saturday’s brunch, indulge in the carbonara frittata, a three-egg omelet with angel hair pasta and pancetta bacon. The hallway leading into the restaurant often features local artists, such as photographer Miles Fabishak whose "Ladies in Red" exhibition during a recent Gallery Night was one of that event’s sleeper hits. The Caffé is across St. Paul Avenue from the Milwaukee Public Market. So look both ways!

225 E. Saint Paul Ave., (414) 224-0895 www.thirdwardcaffe.com

Tony & Mia’s

Diners flock to T&M’s for executive chef Camilla DiNicola’s classic braised beef ravioli and her Bucatini all’Amatriciana Rossa, consisting of hollow pasta comfortably ensconced in a sauce of pancetta, tomatoes, onions and garlic. Note the touches of pepperoncini and Parmesan cheese. For Piattini Tuesdays ("small plates" in Italian), crooner Jerry Zelm sings hits from Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis. That’s the time for a flute of Prosecco — Superiore Riondo 2009. But who can argue that this cheery ristorante in downtown Delafield serves up what drink aficionados call the best Bloody Marys in Lake Country? Co-owner Randy Piering, DiNicola’s husband, is renowned for his flourishing tableside pepper grinding. Piering does double duty as chef for Sunday’s plated brunch, even curing his own bacon.

515 Wells St., Delafield, (262) 646-5999, www.tonyandmias.com

Trattoria di Carlo & Pizzeria

Located on South Howell Avenue just south of Drexel Ave in Oak Creek, this cozy, comfortable eatery with its clean, simple lines has one of the better piatto antipasto servings in the area. Accommodating two to four diners, the platter includes prosciutto, salami, fresh mozzarella, husky Italian olives, roasted peppers, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese cubes, plus additional seasonal items. The trattoria’s family-style option is great for any hungry group wishing to indulge in chicken Parmesan, pollo saltimbocca, filet boscaiola or other favorites paired with pasta and choice of sauces. For high fliers, the restaurant’s catering division provides in-flight meals to charter airlines and to private and corporate jets. There’s nothing like a caprese salad and beef sacchettini above the clouds.

8469 S. Howell Ave., (414) 768-0001, www.dicarlopizza.com

Tutto Restaurant/Bar

The restaurant’s name, Tutto (pronounced "too-toe") means "everything" in Italian. Owners Giovanni Safina, his three sons Sal, David and Joe, and friend Donato Salvo have created a lively hot spot in Milwaukee’s nightclub zone. They offer a menu of Italian favorites blended with American continental cuisine. Popular dishes include Dijon crusted tilapia, served with whole wheat spaghetti, and a dynamite four-cheese ravioli. But the Two Buck Tuesday with $2 sliders (Bambino Burgers and Meatball Sliders) and $2 tappers are wildly popular with the city’s after hours up-and-comers. In some food circles, the elder Safini is nicknamed "The Godfather of Italian Food," making a distinguished restaurant career that started with his first eatery, Giovanni’s, in 1977.

1033 N. Old World 3rd St., (414) 291-5600, www.tuttomilwaukee.com

Wild Earth Cucina/Potawatomi Bingo Casino

Wild Earth Cucina/Potawatomi Bingo Casino

Diners win big at Wild Earth Cucina, on Potawatomi’s upper level. The restaurant, the casino’s latest eatery addition, opened this past summer to glowing critiques, especially with the cooking area open for viewing. Chef Audrey Vandenburgh and sous chef Maggie Haller have come up with a compelling menu they call "a mix of contemporary and traditional interpretations with a focus on local, organic and sustainable foods." In other words: good, hearty fare. A dish of seasonal olives as appetizers is a great way to start a dining experience that might include duck confit, porcini mushroom broth, wilted escarole and garlic-roasted Roma tomatoes with orecchiette pasta. Then conclude with cassata, a traditional Sicilian sweet created with a ricotta and mascarpone along with candied cherries, limoncello, toasted meringue and almond tuile.

1721 W. Canal St., (414) 645-6888, www.paysbig.com/dining

Zarletti

Chef and owner Brian C. Zarletti concentrates on regional Italian cuisine inspired by his grandmother and learned from his numerous trips to Italy. For a primi selection, Ravioli del Giorno, ask about the day’s variety of stuffed, handmade pasta. Zarletti’s also has one of the city’s largest Italian wine selections, featuring at least 30 varieties by the glass, mostly by small producers. The restaurant is perhaps the only place in town that serves a sinfully smooth Vietti, 2004 Barolo Riserva "Villero" Piemonte at $400 a bottle. The modernist dining room has views of bustling downtown through its floor-to-ceiling windows.

741 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 225-0000, www.zarletti.com

Q: Who has been your most admired mentor in the kitchen?

PB: My Great-Grandmother Lena or "Nanny." She was always cooking, from dawn till dusk. Whenever you went to her house, whether you were hungry or not, you ate. Most likely, you left with food, as well. I worked as an intern with Michael Cimarusti (of Providence Restaurant in Los Angeles). I learned something new every day and was part of a crew that was constantly striving and pushing to do things better, faster and more efficiently without ever sacrificing quality or consistency. I’m trying to bring that philosophy to Sala every day.
 

Q: What is the mission at the restaurant?

TB: Our food philosophy at Sala is modern Sicilian cuisine. We want to present new and traditional family recipes with the freshest ingredients, honoring classic styles and flavors, in a comfortable setting.
 

Q: How is it working with your brother and sister?

TB: No comment … wink wink. After 10 years, I’m positive I would have never made it this far having anyone else as a business partner. I don’t know if it is pride or compassion that keeps pushing us forward, but either way, I think we consistently try to improve.

PB: We have always been very close. I think this works to our advantage and disadvantage. It’s nice to be able to rely on someone that you know will always be there for you and help you with what needs to be done. We also know how to push each other’s buttons, which can and often lead to arguments. Even though we fight we usually say what we want to say, shout a little, curse a little and then that’s it.
 

Q: Who is the alpha cook?

TB: I’d say it’s me when it comes between me and Peter. I’m 10 years older. When it comes to dealing with the staff, I’ll give it to Pete. I’m a bit softer on them than he is.

PB: Being the older brother, I’ll let Tony take this one. But being a younger brother, I love to test him and keep him on his toes. This isn’t always the best thing to do when it comes to crunch time but it seems to work itself out.
 

Q: Anything else about Italian cuisine?

TB: I believe people have a misconception of Italian food being all pasta and pizza all the time. To lump a cuisine and culture that focuses most of its pride and joy on food into two simple dishes just doesn’t cut it.

Solid Gold Carini

As a young man, Peter Carini helped his family by selling shoes from a friend’s car trunk — legally, of course — while most of the rest of his relatives were fishermen. He came stateside in 1966 with his mother, dad and a flock of siblings.

Throughout those growing up years, he recalls that "mom was such an amazing cook. She cooked anything they caught that day; if nothing was caught, she would find something and made it taste great." Subsequently, Carini readily admits learning everything he knows about the kitchen comes from her. Well, that and working for really great chefs.

At age 17, he started his culinary career at the Milwaukee Athletic Club as a bus boy. Carini spent so much time watching the cooks that the head chef took him under his wing and taught him the many intricacies of food preparation. After 16 years, Carini eventually made his way to executive chef.

After leaving the MAC, Carini worked at various other area restaurants, including Zorba’s and Niko’s Family Restaurant. These jobs readied him for what came next. Carini’s La Conca d’Oro opened on Oct. 22, 1996. Initially, he was aided by his brothers Sal, Albert and Rosario on weekends, to whom he attributes much of his success.

Keeping up the family link, Carini’s wife, Jan, acts as bookkeeper, bill payer, office gal Friday and hostess. Although she sometimes does the dishes, she rules out washing pots and pans. Their son, Gregg, is the second chef, while the couple’s other son, PJ, is a server, bartender, computer expert and all-around grunt. Daughter Lisa has also worked as a server and office aide.

Gregg attended MATC culinary school, graduating with honors. He helped at Carini’s for a time after graduation, but eventually headed to Naples, Fla. There, he worked for a friend at the upscale Campiello, a restaurant emphasizing "rustic contemporary" cooking. This became a major influence on the younger Carini’s style, while his dad still favors the more traditional. Yet customers appreciate their blend, especially when a dish is complemented by La Conca d’Oro’s many Italian and Sicilian wines, as well as the Carinis’ private label chianti. For another treat, the made-in-house limoncello liqueur comes in lemon, strawberry, peach and blood orange flavors.

Returning to Milwaukee, Gregg spent time at the Wisconsin Club before going on tour as chef for Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift and at several concerts for Paul McCartney and U2. Gregg eventually traveled 36 states in a year, living his dream and love of music, cooking and traveling. "As much as I enjoyed this, it was time to come home again," he says. "It didn’t take much prodding." Once here, he then reconstructed the house menu to make it more family friendly and seasonal.

Dad and son share duties, deciding every week who is going to work lunch and dinner what days. As to who’s boss on any given day, they joke that it’s whoever yells the loudest. However, while Peter has the final say in all decisions, Jan is ultimately the real boss. The saying, "When mom ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy," holds true here.

The name La Conca d’Oro, translating to the "Shell of Gold," was suggested by a friend. In Sicily, Carini‘s hometown of Porticello is part of a cluster of villages nicknamed the "La Conca d’Oro." Bobbing in a boat off the Mediterranean coast and looking toward shore, a golden glow is reflected in the water from the towns’ lights.

It took Carini nine months to find his current location on Oakland Avenue. Once he set his mind on the place, the restaurant launched a month later. "It was exciting, overwhelming and nerve-wracking. Words cannot explain the feeling when the first customers came through the doors on the first night," Jan remembers.

"Think of something that just made your heart burst with pride and multiply that times a million. And to see these customers return again and again … Peter finally was living his dream, cooking the food he was meant to cook," she says. "Many good customers have become good friends. That first night there was no sleep, and to this day there is still little sleep."

Wild Earth's Italian Roots

For Vita Fugarino, rich tomato sauce runs in her veins. At least figuratively. As general manager of Wild Earth Cucina Italiana at Potawatomi Bingo Casino, she can draw upon experiences working at Guiseppe’s Pizza, her mom and pop’s place in Wauwatosa. There she developed her passion for the food industry. Plus, she fell in love with the pizza, spaghetti and eggplant parm, all done with tender, loving family care.

Of course, there was more to it than that. Along with her seven brothers and sisters, Fugarino did whatever was necessary in order to run Guiseppe’s, from serving and bartending to bussing tables and washing dishes. "I (still) enjoy cooking when my family is around. We talk, laugh, tell stories and, of course, dunk the bread. It always ends up being a good time," she laughs.

In the restaurant business for 45 years, both of Fugarino’s parents were born stateside. However, her grandparents on her dad’s side were from Prizzi and Corleone, and her mother’s side from Prizzi and Palermo. Her folks’ first restaurant was in partnership with her maternal grandparents. That Sicilian hospitality heritage was capitalized upon not only by Fugarino but also by others in the clan. Brothers Joe and Tony operate JoJo’s Martini Lounge and sister Joan owns a cheesecake café in Hales Corners.

Everyone in the Fugarino family has regularly stopped into Wild Earth to check it out. The flavorful dishes, ethnic touch and presentation passed their scrutiny. "They are big fans of the calamari, the Italian sausage sliders and the pork loin," Fugarino points out, obviously pleased that even these most discerning experts in Italian fare have given their thumbs up.

Yet what makes Italians such great cooks? "I think with all ethnicities, it starts with family. Having family dinner is sometimes considered a labor of love, so when it comes to cooking for them or for others, everyone appreciates the work that is poured into everything served," Fugarino says.

Even so, Fugarino knows it is not easy when it comes to Italian cooking. "I think the biggest challenge is doing the dish justice. Italy has so many regions and each one has its own style," she says. "Finding the right ingredients for a particular dish can sometimes be a challenge; however, we are fortunate in Milwaukee to have some great Italian groceries like Angelina’s Deli and Glorioso’s."

Subsequently, it’s only a few tarantella dance steps away if Fugarino’s kitchen needs anything Italian culinary. In addition, Wild Earth uses fresh vegetables from local purveyors; for instance, averaging up to 200 pounds of tomatoes a week. She also tries to use as many other sustainable products whenever possible. Wild Earth even makes its own pizza crust.

Letting out a semi-secret, Fugarino confirms that Wild Earth indulges in Acedemia Barilla 100 percent Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, noted for its aroma and strong hints of Pachino cherry tomatoes, capers and yellow peppers, plus a touch of almond. She uses approximately 15 to 18 gallons per week of this critical ingredient, which is made in Parma, in the picturesque northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. 

 


This story ran in the December 2012 issue of: